UCA’s retention rate has kept a steady trend in recent years due to consistent freshman students and maintaining student success.
According to uca.edu, in 2015 UCA saw an 89.9 percent retention rate between fall 1 and spring 1 semesters, but a 72.9 percent retention rate between fall 1 and fall 2 semesters, and only a 59.3 percent retention rate between fall 1 and fall 3 semesters.
Retaining students is not a challenge unique to UCA because a college education, once considered a privilege for the few, has now become a necessity for the economic stability and mobility of an increasing number of Americans, said Associate Provost for Instructional Support Kurt Boniecki.
“All colleges and universities, particularly public comprehensive ones like UCA, are under greater pressure to educate a larger portion of the population,” Boniecki said. “The public, as represented by legislatures and accreditors, are demanding accountability and productivity.”
Boniecki said that as a result, institutions have had to shift from a “sink or swim” approach to a “success” approach that provides all students with the support they need to achieve their educational goals.
From 2013 – 2017, an increase of 1.5 percent has been seen in UCA’s
two-year retention rate, and from 2013 – 2016 an increase of 2.2 percent has been seen in UCA’s one-year retention rate. Boniecki named a number of changes at UCA as reasons for the modest upsurge, including the expansion of Residential Colleges, First Year Seminar courses offered in residential colleges, the hiring of additional college advisers and an improvement in developmental course delivery.
“But we are not satisfied with only a modest increase,” Boniecki said. “Therefore, as part of our 2017-2022 Strategic Plan, UCA set student success as our primary goal, and has directed resources to implementing a wide variety of success initiatives, such as supplemental instruction, Summer Start programs, success coaches and a new Journeys to Success course.”
Boniecki specified that most instances when students decide not to continue their schooling involve issues which fall into three main categories: academic performance, finances and belonging.
He said academic performance and finances are the traditional, common-sense reasons for leaving university — a student struggles to maintain a 2.0 GPA or to pay tuition — but UCA has many support services to help students overcome those struggles.
Students leaving a university because they feel like they don’t belong is a reason that may be less obvious, but no less important, Boniecki said.
He said that whether they are leaving home for the first time or returning to school many years later, the transition to college is a major life change for most students, and during that transition, students carry a lot of doubts about whether they fit in or can succeed. He said this is natural, but that those fears can get the better of students, causing some to leave because they don’t think they belong at UCA.
“By recognizing belonging as a retention factor, we have initiated a number of programs to make a diverse student population feel included and welcome and to provide early interventions to help students overcome those self-doubts.”
Boniecki identified the first year of college as the greatest transition for students, which brings on the largest drop in retention. He said approximately 30 percent of first-time students at UCA leave after one year.
“That’s why most of our retention efforts are directed at freshmen, but we can’t forget sophomores. We lose another 10-15 percent of students after two years,” Boniecki said. “Each year of college is a different transition that poses its own challenges, and UCA is committed to developing and providing the support for students at each stage.”
Boniecki said his advice to students who are struggling in school is to build a community of support.
“The college transition is a process, and struggle is part of it. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed and anxious,” he said. “You are not alone, and there are caring professionals all around you that can help. Talk to your instructors, your advisers, your resident assistants — they want to help you succeed. Also, make friends, join a Recognized Student Organization or be a part of study groups.”
There are over 200 RSOs for students to choose from at UCA, many of which challenge, support and encourage students by providing services, programs, facilities and resources to maximize the collegiate experience.
The Minority Mentorship Program is an RSO designed to raise retention of minority students.
“The Minority Mentorship Program is an organization on campus that aids incoming freshmen by giving them the necessary tools and resources to become successful at UCA,” senior MMP mentor Chanell Roy said. “We, as mentors, guide them in the right direction to achieve the ultimate goal of graduation because that is what we are about: raising retention.”
Boniecki said he doesn’t think it’s all-important for retention rates to be considered by students or parents before making a university decision because the number can be misleading.
He said it’s a number UCA is required to report to the U.S. Department of Education, but it only includes first-time, bachelor’s-degree-seeking students.
“It’s a good number for university administrators to track, but you have to know what it is telling you,” Boniecki said. “It’s more important, I believe, for students and parents to look at the academic programs and the student support services that are available at the institution. You want to know that the institution offers a degree in your area of interest and that the institution is prepared to assist you whenever you need help, whether academically, financially or socially.”